Saturday, August 7, 2010

Being mixed and not looking like your folks

When you are a person of mixed-race, being not quite one thing or the other, there is a good possibility that you don't look much like one of both of your parents.

Take me for example. This is my mother:
While this is my father:
And this is of course my good self:
See what I mean? You can kind of see some resemblance to both, but it ain't like it jumps straight out at you.

Now I know this is not restricted to mixed-race kids; there are also plenty of you out there who are NOT mixed and who don't look much like your parents either, in which case you probably more closely resemble the milkman. But what I'm talking about here is the extra level of difference due to race.

In a multiracial society, interracial relationships are becoming more and more common, so nowadays if you're an white man carrying a small child with dark skin, onlookers might give you the benefit of the doubt rather than assuming you are some sort of sex offender.

But in a place with less racial diversity this can sometimes lead to confusion.

For example:

My Uncle Djoko is Indonesian, with brown skin, a slight build and is not overly tall. He married an Australian woman, and his adult sons Paul, John and Adam are all well-built fellows around 6ft tall, who are like me in that they don't look particularly Asian (in a stereotypical sense).

On holiday in Bali, Uncle Djoko accompanied his three sons as they went shopping. At one particular shop they made a few purchases of clothes. As they were leaving the shop, the manager unexpectedly handed him a small amount of cash.

It dawned on Uncle Djoko what was happening and he shook his head, handing it back. "No, no. These are my sons."

The manager had assumed from the start that he was in fact a tour guide. It is common practice in Indonesia for businesses to give a tip to guides or drivers who bring tourists into their shop. So seeing an Indonesian man with 3 young men who did not look Indonesian, it was an easy mistake to make.

My cousin Nesa has had a similar experience. During a brief stay in the town of Bogor, I was keen to check out the renowned botanical gardens. Nesa was less enthused, preferring the more common Indonesian activity of sitting around smoking cigarettes. After I wandered through the gate and he parked the car, one of the nearby food stall operators asked him, "So, you are a chauffeur for a bule (white person)?"

Any of y'all out there had a similar experience?


  1. Interesting anecdotes... apparently when I was little my (white) mum used to get asked if I was one of the babies adopted from Vietnam...and then the other side of the coin...
    when we visited Malaysia my (Chinese) relatives took me round the markets to show me off as a bit of a halfie novelty! But I don't think anyone's ever mistaken my parents for tour guides.

  2. @ Fourth daughter:

    That's pretty funny.

    Reminds me of something I saw in Indonesia. In a busy street market in Yogya, I saw an average, not particularly wealthy-looking, Indonesian family, including a couple of young kids, one of whom was WHITE. I thought, "Wow, you don't often hear about 3rd-world people adopting white kids"... until I realised that the child must have been albino, rather than white. I think, anyway; they only passed by for about 3 seconds.

  3. When we went to Thailand a similar thing went down:
    My mother took my sister (who is hella fair, brown hair, freckles n all) to the market to get vegetables/souvenirs. One lady said to my mum, "Aye, you. Are you her [my sister] maid?"
    My mother was about to choke a ----, heheh.

  4. @ Cass:

    from your anecdote as well as the ones I have encountered here, it seems that in Asia, the white(-ish) person is assumed to be the "master" if you will, and the Asian is assumed to be the servant. Which is sad.

  5. @ Eurasian Sensation:

    It is sad that people in Asia largely think this way.
    I feel the mentality is often mirrored here in Australia, at least in the way of a superior/inferior assumption if not the literal servant/master relationship. It's slowly getting better though. I'm optimistic.

  6. I'm a white guy married to a Filipina in the US. My wife is brown, but our daughter is very white like me.

    When it's just her and I, the only comments I ever hear are "cute baby!". I'm not sure she even registers as half-asian to most people.

    On the other hand, when my wife goes out with our daughter, strangers have asked on several occasions if the father is white, and some older Filipinos have asked if she's the nanny.

    What else can you do but laugh?